The Search for More: Susan Funk’s (F’77) Williams-Mystic Story

Throughout her semester and at moments after it ended, Susan realized how much the accessibility of the Williams-Mystic professors adds to each student’s experience in the program.

“They’re not just there to grade you. They’re there to be your partner in learning,” Susan said.

This post was written by S’18 alumna Audra DeLaney. Audra enjoys visiting the ocean, going on adventures, and telling the unique stories of the people and places around her. 

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Susan Funk (Photo Credit: Mystic Seaport Museum)

You’re looking for more out of your college experience. More challenges. More questions. More big-picture thinking. More solutions. You’ve chosen to change your major from science to American history and you enjoy learning about how people interact with different environments. Your junior year, your advisor tells you about a program he believes pulls together all of your interests.

Welcome to the Williams-Mystic story of Executive Vice President and COO of Mystic Seaport Museum, Susan Funk.

When Susan’s advisor told her about the program, then recruiting students for its very first semester, he assured her that participating would be worth the risk.

“He said any program run by [Williams-Mystic founder and historian] Ben Labaree would be of the highest quality. There was a flier about the program but that’s all we knew about it because it didn’t exist yet. It was a concept rather than something you could go and observe and talk to other people about,” Susan said. She decided to take the risk and apply to the program.

Susan remembers why she chose to come in the program’s very first semester, the fall of 1977, rather than in the spring of 1978: She wanted to sail off Georges Bank in Massachusetts.

“I thought: Well, there’s a good chance that in my life I’ll have other opportunities to sail down in the Caribbean, but I don’t know that going on the fishing grounds is something that I’ll ever get to do again,” Susan said. “We also sailed into Nantucket, coming in on a traditional schooner into that old port. That was really memorable.”

Throughout her semester and at moments after it ended, Susan realized how much the accessibility of the Williams-Mystic professors adds to each student’s experience in the program.

“They’re not just there to grade you. They’re there to be your partner in learning,” Susan said.

The collaborative approach of Williams-Mystic, Susan believes, influences how students approach the world — not only as they return to their home campuses but also as they shape their careers. Right after college, Susan spent time working different jobs to figure out where and how she wanted to build her career.

Susan followed in the footsteps of one of her Williams-Mystic classmates who had gone to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland to be an observer for the Law of the Sea Conference discussions and negotiations.

She spent eight weeks living in Geneva, going to strategy sessions with the American team and listening to all of the discussions about the law of the sea. During her time at Williams-Mystic, Ben Labaree had made sure that the F’77 class learned from professionals about topics as diverse as manganese nodules, whaling, shipping lanes and more. Now, in Geneva, these very topics were being discussed and Susan had a chance to apply her knowledge from the program.

After finishing her time in Geneva, she took a job on demonstration squad at Mystic Seaport Museum for the summer.

Susan remembers one of her first days aloft on the Charles W. Morgan as part of the demonstration squad.

“I arrived a day early for training, and the supervisor suggested that I seek out the riggers to see if I could be of help in their work on the Morgan. The riggers said that if I was willing to work aloft, they had some simple tasks I could do.  Of course, I said yes!  It was amazing.  A beautiful, sunny day, the chanteyman was singing down on the wharf, and I was at the end of the yard mouthing sister hooks.  This was the right place for me to spend a summer.  And although I knew I had learned a lot from Williams-Mystic, working as an interpreter taught me so much more,” Susan said.

Susan’s work on the demonstration squad led to several different positions in the Mystic Seaport Museum’s Interpretation Department. Early in her career, she also spent time working in admissions for Williams-Mystic. Susan gained insight into other nonprofit organizations through serving on the Boards of Trustees for the New England Museum Association, the Pine Point School, and the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center. Each opportunity, Susan said, has helped her learn more, take on responsibility, and grow as a professional. A highlight of her Mystic Seaport Museum career is the 2014 Charles W. Morgan 38th voyage. Particularly, she remembers being on Stellwagen Bank and seeing numerous humpback whales, including a mother and calf. From handling sail underway to rowing in the whaleboat this experience reflected the importance of interdisciplinary thinking as we explore the past, present, and future.

These experiences reaffirmed for Susan just how unique Mystic Seaport Museum and Williams-Mystic are — particularly in transforming students’ paths long after they leave campus. She stays in contact with her classmates. “We agree that we are incredibly fortunate to be members of the first class and to continue our close friendships and ever-evolving discussions,” Susan said.

Mystic-al Leisure

I am feeling thankful to be a resident of Mystic this semester; this town is so indescribably beautiful and full of things to do.

by Hayden Gillooly

Hayden Gillooly is one of our student bloggers for Spring 2019. She is a sophomore at Williams College, studying Spanish with a concentration in Maritime Studies. She is from North, Adams, MA. 

I am sitting in Green Marble Coffee, which is nestled in the heart of Mystic. I am sipping a hot chai latte, my fingers and cheeks still cold from the bike ride. I am feeling thankful to be a resident of Mystic this semester; this town is so indescribably beautiful and full of things to do.

While academics and field seminars are an important part of Williams-Mystic, they do not take up all of our time. In between the cracks of engaging classes, working on research projects and meeting with professors, there is time for leisure. And in this town, it is Mystic-al (I know, cheesy pun).

Downtown Mystic is a fabulous place to run to, walk and bike around in. Many of my classmates love working out at the Mystic YMCA; the program provides us each with a free membership to the gym. There are so many shops, restaurants and coffee shops. Bartleby’s, Mystic Depot Roasters and Green Marble Coffee are my go-to’s. Usually, I will camp out at a shop with a classmate to work on homework. And more often than sometimes, we end up having philosophical chats that leave me feeling rejuvenated and excited about the word. I really enjoy having long conversations with my classmates.

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Mystic Seaport Museum at sunset.

I have always loved sunsets, so it is of no surprise that Mystic sunsets have become near and dear to my heart. Nearly every night, regardless of what I am in the middle of, I head to the Seaport to watch the day come to a close. At that hour, the Seaport is still; I can hear geese in the distance, birds chirping and the water rippling quietly. The sun dances off the water and casts wild shadows across the shipyard. Tonight, I went for a run downtown and finished at the Seaport to bid farewell to the day.

I am not the only one to enjoy the simple pleasure of a still Seaport. My classmate Samuel (University of Rhode Island ‘19) said that his favorite moments on campus are “walking around after snowstorms and during the cold to watch ice at the edge of the river. The dark water and white snow and lack of activity make it so quaint and idyllic to experience.”

Speaking of community, the Seaport is full of interesting people, and is a spot for leisure in and unto itself. As Williams-Mystic students, we have full access to all of the exhibits here. One day after class, my friend and I spent a few hours going into all of the buildings on site and learning about the history of each one: the general store, blacksmith shop, printing shop, traditional home and watch shop just to name a few. We also toured the Charles W. Morgan tall ship, which is absolutely beautiful; we are so lucky to have such a treasure right at our fingertips. While on the Morgan, we compared it to our time on the Corwith Cramer during our Offshore Field Seminar in Puerto Rico; the beauty of experiential learning. We thought about how difficult it was to live on a ship in such close quarters for 11 days, nevermind the three– to five-year voyages that we learned about from a Mystic volunteer. Our professors take advantage of the Seaport as well; for Maritime History with Alicia Maggard, an upcoming assignment is to visit the exhibit “Voyaging in the Wake of Whalers.”

Living in houses and in such a tight-knit school community is something really unique about Williams-Mystic. I live in Carr House with three other students; it feels so nice to come home at the end of the day, debrief with them and cook dinner. On Sundays, Carr house goes out to brunch or lunch together, which is one of my favorite times of the week. We always go somewhere different and so far have been to Kitchen Little, Bleu Squid and Peking Tokyo. It is wonderful to check in with each other at the end of the week, and talk about the upcoming week.

Community bonding happens in more ways than just within our houses. A few weeks ago, Mary O’Loughlin and Laurie Warren, student life directors, organized for our class to go bowling on a Friday night. Around ten of us attended, and had a blast laughing and dancing while bowling.

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The Powerpoint Party at Albion House!

Another night, Albion House hosted a “Powerpoint Party & Potluck” where everyone made a five-minute presentation about anything, from random interests to life-long passions. I learned about trees from Henry, ‘power poses’ from Charlotte and the origin of the Kermit the Frog Memes from Dayana. Phoebe and Kevin talked about the joys of pickling foods, just to name a few.

Albion house hosts other houses for ‘leftover night’ where another house brings over the week’s leftover foods and hangs out. Before our California field seminar, Carr house was invited to Albion. We dined on quesadillas, salsa rice, guacamole and other yummy foods. We had so much fun spending intentional time with another house. Another common occurrence in Williams-Mystic are board game and card game nights. Carr hosted a stressbusting night of “Cards Against Humanity” and “Apples to Apples.”

I just drank the last sip of my chai latte. Off to bike back to the Seaport; I will take the scenic route, which traces the water, in order to catch the sunset. I’ll ask myself the recurring question, “Is this really my classroom?!”